Thursday 20 June 2019

Savour splendour of Doneraile Court

Initial phase of refurbishment project to open later this month

Bill Browne

Almost two years after funding of €1.6 million was allocated for the refurbishment of the stately Doneraile Court, the public is get to get their first glimpse at how the ambitious project is progressing.

On Sunday, June 23, the ground floor of the late-17th-century house will open to visitors for the first time, ushering in a new and exciting chapter in the history of the house and its magnificent gardens. 

Since last autumn, a team of experts commissioned by the Office of Public Works has been busy preparing the ground floor for its inaugural opening. One member of that team, renowned architectural historian Christopher Moore, recently told The Corkman that it has been a “wonderful experience” for both him personally and indeed all of the team.

"People in Doneraile have been waiting 50 years for the House to come of age and open to the public. For me it's a dream project. You have a really interesting house in every sense that was really a blank canvas," said Mr Moore.

He gave visitors to Doneraile Court a tantalising glimpse of what to expect when the building finally opens its doors. 

"We had different options. Do we refurnish the house as it was in 1969 before all the contents left? Do we have it just as an exhibition centre, or do we try to make it tell one of any number of stories? The latter is what we are doing," said Mr Moore.

He said acquiring the paintings, furniture and other items for the ground floor turned out to be a relatively easy task. 

"Some of our objects have come from existing OPW houses, some have been purchased, a lot are donations to the Irish Georgian Society ,which are conditional gifts to Doneraile. People are very passionate and excited about what is happening in Doneraile so, in a way, the generosity of people has not surprised me," said Mr Moore. 

He was keen to point out that the manner in which the OPW is interpreting the house was very much a work in progress and would evolve over the years. 

"This is because Mary Heffernan, the OPW principal officer in charge of the overall restoration project, has huge vision and wants to develop this notion of the country house, the layers of the Park and its relationship with the village and surrounding area," said Mr Moore.

"Once the ground floor is finally open, we will take a breather and move on to the next phase, which will hopefully be the restoration of the first floor," he added. 

Myra Ryall, the PRO of the Doneraile Development Association, which has worked tirelessly for many years to bring the restoration project to fruition, said June 23 would be "a historic day for Doneraile". 

"The important thing to take from this is that it is very much an ongoing project, with refurbishment work set to start on the first floor of the building next year. The whole project is a key opportunity to drive the economic prosperity of Doneraile and its hinterland," said Ms Ryall.

She pointed out that Doneraile Park recorded 500,000 visits last year, a figure that she said had the potential to rise to more than a million over the next five years.

"The whole reason that we embarked on this during the midst of a recession was to get to this point and then move forward. In addition to the House, we have a magnificent collection of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century gardens that are unique to Ireland and Britain. So the challenge for us now is use the incredible assets at our disposal to promote the economic well-being of Doneraile into the future," said Ms Ryall. 

"By working closely with tourism bodies such as Bord Fáilte, Tourism Ireland and Munster Vales, and creating a unique offering for visitors, there is no reason why Doneraile Park cannot become one of Ireland's top visitor attractions. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of the OPW, and as a community we are most grateful to them for that," she added.